Rafael van der Vaart is expected to make his long-awaited return for Hamburg on Sunday
Rafael van der Vaart is expected to make his long-awaited return for Hamburg on Sunday

All eyes on Van der Vaart

Nuremberg - While the Bundesliga winter break left many fans wondering how to fill their Saturday afternoons, one man made very good use of the interval indeed: Hamburger SV's was able to work his way back to fitness ahead of his side's first tie of the New Year away to 1. FC Nuremberg this Sunday afternoon (kick-off 15:30 CET).

Tough nut to crack

The Dutch superstar's persistent thigh injury had threatened to keep him out of action for a lengthy spell, but a specially-tailored recovery programme has enabled the playmaker to return in time for the top-flight restart.

Good news for the Hanseatic outfit, who have largely relied on South Korean star 's goals to keep them buoyant this term - the 20-year-old is the team's joint-top scorer with six goals already.

Indeed, Hamburg have found the net just 18 times as a collective. Only four teams have a worse record in the final third and their current position of tenth clearly owes more to the side's defensive solidity. Centre-back pairing and Heiko Westermann were crucial to Thorsten Fink's side keeping six clean sheets before the winter break and they will be intent on extending that tally on Sunday.

Kiyotake the key

After Dieter Hecking's departure for VfL Wolfsburg in December, hosts Nuremberg will be feeling their way back into the groove under new coach Michael Wiesinger, who gave an optimistic view ahead of his first game in charge: "I've got a positive impression so far. We feel good and we're going into the match full of confidence. Our aim is to secure our survival."

While der Club sit down in 14th in the table, their situation is not as perilous as their position suggests, with a healthy eight points separating them from 16th-placed Hoffenheim and the bottom three. Like Hamburg, the home side will be relying on a Far Eastern import of their own for inspiration. Japanese international 's three goals and five assists in the first half of the campaign have been the chief factor in the Franconians keeping their heads above water thus far and the skilful No13 will no doubt be aiming to consolidate his reputation in 2013.

Possible line-ups:

Nuremberg: R. Schäfer - Chandler, Nilsson, Klose, Pinola - Simons - Kiyotake, Balitsch, Feulner, Gebhart - Pekhart

Hamburg: Adler - Diekmeier, Mancienne, Westermann, Jansen - Badelj - Arslan, Aogo - van der Vaart - Son, Rudnevs

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